AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: reduced forms in spoken American English.
RS: We're talking about forms like whaddaya -- meaning "what do
you," as in "whaddaya say?" "Whaddaya Say?" is also the title of a
popular teaching book on reduced forms by Nina Weinstein.
AA: She did extensive research on the subject as a graduate student
at the University of California, Los Angeles, and as a teaching fellow
"There were a lot of assumptions. People felt that maybe it was a sort
of uneducated kind of speech or maybe it was caused by informality or
things like this. So my master's thesis is actually on what causes
"And what I found was speed of speech was statistically significant
as a cause for reduced forms, not informality. Though in informal
speech we tend to speak more quickly, and so we think it's the
informality, but actually it's the speed of speech."
RS: "What do you find? Do you find certain patterns of reductions?
Is there a way in which you can almost predict, if you are a speaker of
English as a foreign language, that you can almost predict when or how
it's going to happen?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Yes, yes -- in fact, you can learn the reduced
forms before. There are fifty to seventy common reduced forms that
everyone should know from a listening point of view. Sometimes, I
think, teachers feel that students will just pick this up. And they do
pick up some, but they don't pick up all of them."
AA: "Can you give us a few of the most common reduced forms?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "The three most common reduced forms are wanna,
which is the spoken form of 'want to'; gonna, which is the spoken form
of 'going to' plus a verb; and hafta, which is the spoken form of 'have
to.' And one of these forms will occur about every two minutes."
AA: "On average in a conversation?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Yes, in unscripted spoken English."
AA: "That's amazing. And we're talking about common, everyday
speech. And yet I could see maybe some students who are learning
English who want to maybe apply for a job or meet with an employer or
someone, a professor, and maybe they're afraid that they're going to
sound uneducated or that they're too informal. What do you say about
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Informality -- informality actually is a very, very
large part of American English. And as I tell my students, the majority
of English is informal, though we do have situations that call for
formality. I don't think that students should worry about their own use
of the reduced forms because non-native speakers generally don't reach
the speed of speech to have reductions. And so their speech will not
"I don't advise students unnaturally adapting these forms because,
as I said, they're a natural flow of spoken English. But what I do
suggest that they do is, if they want to sound more natural, regardless
of whether it's an interview situation or just in everyday speech, they
could adopt the three most common reduced forms in their speech because
these are almost like vocabulary items. They're that common.
"As far as the job interview goes, as I said, I don't think students
should adopt the fifty to seventy common reduced forms in their own
speech. But they need to understand the interviewer, who will be using
RS: "Now beyond these top three, is there a top ten?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "I wouldn't say there's a top ten. If I were to just
give you some really common ones, one of the more common question forms
would be 'what do you/what are you' changing to whaddaya. You can put
that together with want to -- 'what do you want to' would be naturally
pronounced as whaddaya wanna: 'Whaddaya wanna do?' 'Whaddaya wanna
have?' Of course, we talked about gonna, which is 'going to' plus verb.
"We've got gotta, which is 'have got to': 'I've got to do this.'
'I've got to go there.' I think those are common, but I think the ones
that are represented in 'Whaddya Say?' are really the most common. And
I can't cut it off at ten, because actually in my research I found
three hundred and five reduced forms."
A: Nina Weinstein, the author of "Whaddaya Say? Guided Practice in
Relaxed Speech," speaking with us from VOA's Los Angeles bureau.
RS: And we gotta go. That's Wordmaster for this week. To learn more
about American English, visit our Web site, voanews.com/wordmaster.
AA: And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.